Not Such a Nice Guy After All
Albus Dumbledore is the leader of the forces of light, the wise and beloved Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and a powerful wizard responsible for the defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald. He is the only wizard that Lord Voldemort ever feared, and he strikes terror into the hearts of Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters, as we saw at the end of Order of the Phoenix.
From Book One to Book Four, Dumbledore is shown in an entirely flattering light. Harry’s trust in Dumbledore is complete in books One and Two. In Book Three, Harry’s trust falters when Dumbledore initially seems unable to come up with a method to rescue Sirius Black, but that trust is soon regained when he reveals his plan using Hermione’s time turner. In Book Four, Dumbledore is a little more distant, but he is once more Harry’s savior at the end of the book.
Book Five begins what I suspect will be a series of unpleasant revelations about the leader of the light: for the first time in the series, we see a fallible Dumbledore, a Dumbledore whose mistakes have lead to the death of Sirius Black and the injury of Harry’s classmates, not to mention the near-fatal possession of Harry himself. The blame does not lie solely on Dumbledore’s shoulders, as Dumbledore suggests, but the fault ought to shift more heavily to the wisest and most experienced party – which is Dumbledore.
Dumbledore’s image suffered immensely throughout Book Five, but not only at the start. Harry grows angry and resentful when Dumbledore avoids him, and the readers are meant to sympathize more with the caged Sirius Black than with Dumbledore. Dumbledore is still a good guy, no doubt about it, but he’s no longer a shining paragon of virtue. Part of this transformation, of course, is linked to Harry’s journey into adulthood: parental figures become less important as children and teenagers develop their own sense of self, complete with the ability to distrust authority and think for yourself. Harry has always been very independent, however, and has not been shown to consistently behave with teachers and parental figures. Dumbledore’s transformation from the ideal to a tarnished good guy is not going to stop with Book Five.
I suspect well learn a lot more about Dumbledore in the next two books: we can surmise he will play a large role in HBP, due to his prominent placement on both the British and American covers. He seems to be back as a protagonist, as either wise mentor or protector (or both), but I doubt he’ll ever be the idealized mentor he was during the first four books of the series.
In fact, Dumbledore has never been a perfect character, and the clues lie within the books.
Take Book One: at the end of SS/PS, Harry, Ron, and Hermione save the stone, and, therefore, the wizarding world. They, and Neville Longbottom, are awarded one hundred and seventy points, giving them the greatest number of house points and thus winning them the cup. The book ends on a celebratory note; the evil Slytherins are defeated; Harry is the victorious hero.
The problem is, no matter how much Dumbledore loves Harry and I don’t doubt he does; his assertions at the end of Book Five are convincing – no matter how much Dumbledore loves Harry, Harry Potter is NOT the only student in Hogwarts. Gryffindor is NOT the only House, and it does NOT have the only students worth knowing or being. Dumbledore, however, displays an extreme prejudice against Slytherin House.
Examine the scene carefully: The feast begins. The Great Hall is decorated in Slytherin colors with the Slytherin serpent on a banner behind the High Table. The book says directly, “It was decked out in the Slytherin colors of green and silver to celebrate Slytherins winning the house cup for the seventh year in a row.” (U.S. page 304)
Dumbledore enters the room, and makes a short speech before addressing the points. He explicitly congratulates Slytherin for having the highest number of points, and they all cheer, for they think they have won the cup. They have the highest number of points, and they achieved them entirely fairly.
Dumbledore allows children – some of them just eleven, still very much tender, impressionable children – to think they have won, before snatching victory away from them. Dumbledore awards points exactly high enough to push them over Slytherin’s total. He didn’t need to do that. He didn’t need to announce to the school why Harry and his friends have won so many points; nobody announced why Harry, Hermione, and Neville had LOST those points, and we’ve never seen point gains announced to the general school, either.
What Harry did, of course, was worthy of praise; Dumbledore praised him again in Book Four for similar reasons. Dumbledore did not, however, address why Harry was receiving these points, not in any more depth than ”for pure nerve and outstanding courage.”
Dumbledore deliberately pushes Gryffindor over Slytherin, and what happens next? The Slytherins are obviously unhappy. Malfoy is described, ”[he] couldn’t have looked more stunned and horrified if he’d just had the Body-Bind Curse put on him.” Malfoy is eleven, twelve at the most. He’s a child away from home, perhaps not a nice one, but still a child. He’s worked hard to win the House Cup, he’s been led to believe that his house had, and then it was taken from him all in an instant, by a man he should have trusted to be impartial, or at least discreet in his biases.
Dumbledore changes the decorations, the Gryffindors celebrate, and all is right with the world, unless you happen to be part of Slytherin House.
Even aside from the moral ramifications of cruelly manipulating the emotions of mere children, it was terrible tactics on Dumbledore’s part. Slytherin House, the most likely to turn over to the dark side when Voldemort returns to power – and Dumbledore does not doubt that return – has now been made to feel less important. Dumbledore, the leader for the light and the main opponent of Voldemort in the first war, has been shown to prefer Gryffindors over Slytherins.
In fact, this prejudice for it is a prejudice lies elsewhere in the book, perhaps more subtly, but still definitely there. Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House, is Dumbledore’s second in command. Severus Snape, Slytherin Head of House, has been passed over for the DADA position for people like Quirrell, Lockhart, and Umbridge. Dumbledore reveals things to Harry about Severus Snape that Harry should not know – namely, Snape’s humiliating experience at the hand of the Marauders.
In CoS, Dumbledore praises Harry for having chosen Gryffindor over Slytherin when he put on the sorting hat. Tom Riddle, Dumbledore says, chose to be in Slytherin, while Harry, the protagonist, chose to be in Gryffindor. Dumbledore is equating all of Slytherin house with Riddle and evil, and none too subtly.
There may be other instances of Gryffindor favoritism, too. Why wasn’t Sirius Black expelled from Hogwarts after leading Snape to a transformed Lupin? If Harry and Ron came close to expulsion for driving the Ford Anglia – an action which only endangered themselves – then putting the LIVES of other students in danger for the sake of a joke surely should have merited expulsion, if not a criminal investigation. Sirius was not, however, expelled, at least not that we know of – and we should have heard about it if he were disciplined that severely. Why would Dumbledore have overlooked this crime? Perhaps because of his Gryffindor/Slytherin favoritism.
It is an ugly, ugly fault in Dumbledore. Dumbledore is a good man he works tirelessly for the light, is its most fearsome warrior, would never dream of dabbling in the Dark Arts but for all that, he has compromised his position as an educator when he facilitated the ostracism of Slytherin House.
All of Hogwarts, it seems, dislikes Slytherin – certainly, we’ve seen Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff support Gryffindor over Slytherin both in Quidditch and in the competition for the House Cup. Members of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff House seem to be closer to Harry Potter than Draco Malfoy (for example, joining the D.A.). Slytherin may have won this bad reputation on its own, as ambition, ruthlessness, and cunning arent really pleasant personality features. Dumbledore, however, has a duty as an educator to prevent the widespread stereotyping.
Dumbledore has shown himself to be above racism. He now needs to prove himself above house rivalries and house favoritism.